NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - While the New Hanover County Commission has the final vote on the future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the North Carolina Department of Justice (NCDOJ) is monitoring the transaction, and will review it.
Attorney General Josh Stein said pursuant to state law, his office is expecting formal notice of the proposed transaction—notice NHRMC officials said they will provide.
However, that is happening after “clarification” from Stein’s office. Attorneys representing the hospital and the deal sent a letter to Stein’s office arguing this deal doesn’t fall under the same jurisdiction as other hospital sales.
The conclusion of that letter reads: “Although we understand that NHRMC intends to continue to keep the Attorney General apprised throughout the process leading to any Proposed Transaction, as well as to notify the Attorney General regarding any Proposed Transaction if the parties were to move forward with one, it would, respectfully, appear that the Attorney General’s review and approval, as specifically contemplated under the Act, would not be necessary or required for a Proposed Transaction of a nature described herein.”
But Stein’s office disagrees. They responded to those attorneys and attorneys for the hospital and New Hanover County explaining that they did not adopt that interpretation, and would expect formal notification of the pending transaction as required.
Stein said the point of the NCDOJ overseeing the sale of hospitals is to protect the consumer.
“We want to make sure that the consumers don’t lose—that there’s not less charity care, that they continue to meet the health needs of the community, that they continue to accept forms of payment like Medicaid,” he said.
The hospital and the county are in the midst of negotiations with Novant that must be completed by early October.
Stein explained there are different provisions of the law that cover different types of sales and divestment of assets.
The case of NHRMC is unique, he said, because it is both a county-owned entity and a non-profit organization.
Stein said each aspect will be scrutinized based on the applicable statute.
He said the point of a review by the attorney general and NCDOJ isn’t to comment on the merits of the offer by Novant, or whether or not it is a good idea for the county to sell or partner.
Instead, he explained, the point is to look at how the sale is being done, the aspects of the agreement and what happens to the assets to make sure the law is followed, whether that be antitrust provisions or other statutes.
“It’s not my job to weigh in on whether I think this is a good transaction or bad transaction. That’s not what the law affords me,” he said. “What the law asks me to do is to make sure that if the transaction goes forward, that the requirements of the law are respected and that’s what I will scrutinize.”
In response to an inquiry about the exchange with the NCDOJ, a hospital spokesperson said NHRMC and the county have been up-front with Stein’s office throughout the process, and will continue to do so.
“We understand and appreciate the Attorney General’s interest in reviewing and providing input that can inform the final agreement. We continue to follow the statutory process for the sale of a public hospital. We have kept the Attorney General informed of our progress and sought clarification on how that information should be provided. Based on clarifications from the Attorney General, we will be filing a formal notice and seeking their review of this transaction.”